Job Interviews: Tell the Truth--Intelligently

by Steve Frederick, Frederick Career Services

Don't Criticize or blame
Keep personal details personal
Put the best spin on the facts
Sometimes there's no good way out
Rehearse and then rehearse some more

 Cathy was upset after she blew the second interview for a job she really needed. The interviewer frowned after she'd flippantly criticized her last boss. Then, to make things worse, she’d spoken carelessly about a mistake she'd made on an important project. Job interviews often turn into disasters when candidates forget to treat them as marketing opportunities. Remember, they are not therapy sessions in which to bare intimate secrets nor a courtroom where you swear to tell the whole truth.
This doesn't mean you should lie in interviews. Besides being unethical, lying changes the nature of the conversation. The interviewer will almost certainly feel subtly different about you, and you'll be uncomfortable, fearing being found out.
Instead, tell the truth intelligently. Since you have only a short time to make an impression, plan carefully what you'd like to communicate. What information puts you in the best light? What is better withheld? Be prepared, so that under the stress of the interview, you won't leave your common sense in the interviewer's lobby.

Don't Criticize or Blame
Cathy’s boss might well be a snarling, sniveling, contemptible miscreant, but she must never criticize him in an interview. Employers will think, "If she's criticizing her current boss, how long will it be before she starts criticizing me?"

Keep Personal Details Personal
Sharing parts of your private life can make you a more human and attractive candidate. It can also be a liability. Jan, for example, is moving across the country to rekindle a romance with an old high school flame she saw at her high school reunion. She fears employers will think she's flighty.
We told Jan not to create problems for herself. Employers don't have to know the whole reason. She might simply say, "I used to live here, I like the city, and I decided to move back." It's all true. Employers won't know the rest unless you tell. Don't.

Put the Best Spin on the Facts
Ron quit his job and spent a relaxing summer at the beach, doing volunteer work, and deciding about his next move. He feared employers would think he wasn't a dedicated worker.
We coached Ron to tell employers he had been working really hard, decided to take time off to plan his next career move, and had some great experiences with his volunteer work. Again, no lies, and no need to mention the beach.

Sometimes There's No Good Way Out
Bob couldn't hide his past--and couldn't even hope it wouldn't come up. We recommended beginning interviews by telling the truth powerfully. "There's something I want to bring up. I was convicted of dealing drugs 5 years ago, and served 3 years in prison. During the entire ordeal, I worked to keep my family together, and succeeded. I used the sentence to study, pray, and focus myself on what's most important in life, and am clearer now about what really matters.
I know the consequences of being out of integrity, and believe in being 100% honest in all transactions and communications. I have a question, "Is there anything in this job that might demand an association with anything illegal? If so, we don't have a match. If not, you'll need to judge whether you're willing to hire me despite my past. I regret it, but cannot change it."
There's always a spin consistent with the truth. Even the most negative blotch on your resume can be transformed into a "lesson you learned."

Rehearse and Then Rehearse Some More
Many people spend untold hours drafting and redrafting their resumes to give just the right impression, but just wing it in job interviews. Anticipate any issues you might have, and prepare exactly how you will respond. If a question catches you off guard in an interview, make sure you’re ready for that question the next time.

Steve Frederick of Frederick Career Services helps people who are: Frustrated with their job search; Not sure what they want to do next; Wanting to change careers; Stuck in jobs that don't fit them: And much more.